Women from three Solomon Islands communities have banded together to protect turtles and play a new role in conservation education.
At the Arnavon Community Marine Park (ACMP) in the Solomon Islands, The Nature Conservancy works with three local communities to protect the largest hawksbill turtle nesting area in the Western Pacific. Although men from these communities have been involved in the ACMP for 20 years as community conservation officers, women have not had a formal role there.
Women Have a Role
A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that conservation programs which focus on engaging women and men achieve greater results. Yet throughout the Solomon Islands, a number of reasons including cultural barriers — or a lack of precedent — often block women from being active participants in conservation decisions.
With support from Robyn James, Conservation Director for The Nature Conservancy's Melanesia Program, women from Kahtupika, Wagina and Kia met at the ACMP in April 2016 to launch KAWAKI. They discussed their hopes for the group, crafted a vision statement and developed two short-term goals: 1) raise awareness about conservation in their villages, and 2) design an education program to teach children about sea turtles and the ACMP The vision of KAWAKI is uniting women around conservation, culture and community to create a better future for their children.
The women’s plan to raise awareness is important. Even though turtles are relatively safe while they nest at the ACMCP, they face dangers when they leave these protected islands. Poaching, fishing nets and even litter, such as plastic bags, all pose threats to sea turtles as they swim and feed in the area.
To address these threats, Conservancy scientists are launching a new satellite tagging project that will track eight sea turtles’ movements and collect data on how to protect them throughout more of their life cycle. In honor of the new women’s group, we named the first tagged turtle “Mama KAWAKI.”
Fittingly, Mama KAWAKI is the biggest turtle ever recorded in 20 years of conservation at the ACMP. Her shell is an amazing 95.5 centimeters long — far larger than a typical turtle, which normally ranges in size from 80 to 90 centimeters!
The women of KAWAKI feel inspired to have a turtle named after them. They say that having their group’s name associated with such a big turtle is a sign that they’ll accomplish big things and are excited about her heading to protected waters of Australia.
After their first meeting, the KAWAKI women gathered together to mark the occasion by singing a hymn, symbolically joining their voices together just as they are joining together to strengthen their involvement in conservation.
Tracking the KAWAKI
We look forward to seeing what the KAWAKI group will achieve — and to tracking their namesake turtle’s journey on our online map.
Educating and Promoting Awareness
With support from TNC, the KAWAKI women have developed a set of environment education materials in the form of flipcharts that can be used to present information in schools and villages without electricity. They next plan to use these materials as the basis of an awareness program for the areas around Arnavons with the goal of scaling this out over time.